4 questions to ask when reading the Bible
For anyone who has ever read part of the Bible and thought "I don't get it!"
In Luke 14:26, Jesus said:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple.
If you’re the sort of person that likes to just flip open their Bible at random and read only a couple of verses as your “verse of the day”, than you might be saying, “Is that right? Does Jesus really want me to hate my parents?”.
I trust Jesus. I trust what he says. Jesus said this. It must be true.
But maybe that’s not what Jesus is saying, and maybe there is a more helpful way of reading the Bible.
Reading the Bible is good. Your youth leader wants you to do it. Your parents (if they’re Christian) want you to do it. Jesus wants you to do it. The Bible is God’s way of communicating with us. It’s how he reveals what he’s like, what he values, what he's concerned for.
But the Bible is up to 4500 years old. The newest part is at least 1900 years old. It's fair to say that the world has changed a bit since it was originally written. So here’s 4 ways to help you read and understand the Bible for yourself.
1. What is the context?
Let's take a look at the passage we started with. Some questions we should ask before jumping to any conclusions are:
- Where does this book fit in the overall story of the Bible?
- Where does this story fit into the book of Luke?
- Does this take place before or after Jesus’ death and resurrection?
- Why was this passage written? (remember what the apostle John says in John 21:25 - not everything about Jesus could be written down, so they only chose the important things to include in the gospels.)
2. What else can you observe?
Now, as we take a look at the story in it's context, we ask more questions:
- Is this passage part of a poem, a proverb, a letter, a story…?
- Is there any exaggeration being used to help make a strong point?
- Are there any words repeated or any patterns or themes developing?
3. What could it mean?
We are now getting closer to understanding this part of the Bible, but there's more questions to ask!
- What does this passage tell me about God, Jesus, God’s people, or the world?
- What did this passage mean for the people who first read it? (put yourself in their shoes). How can I sum it up in our own words?
4. How do I apply this to my life?
Here's some final questions you should consider:
- Does this passage tell me to do anything?
- Is this passage helping me understand who God is, what he does, or how he relates to people?
- Do I need to change some of my attitudes, start doing something I haven’t been doing, or change the way I live?
Putting it all together
So, we started with one verse, and then added a lot of questions. So after all that, do you think the passage is saying you should hate your parents? I don't think so.
In context, Jesus is talking about the cost of being his disciple (following him). He has revealed who he is to his disciples and his mission (luke 9:18-26) - now as he heads up to Jerusalem to be crucified he wants his disciples to be ready for what lays ahead.
As you observe what's being said, you can see that Jesus is using exaggeration (hyperbole) to give his point some impact.
The meaning this would have had to the original disciples was that they must be prepared to put Jesus first, at all costs, even above their family - not to actively hate them (that would go against the rest of the Bible's teaching), but to put Jesus first and foremost in their lives.
As an application, I need to put Jesus first above everything. Put aside my right to revenge. Put aside my hopes and dreams and goals to follow him into new life.
Now, why not open the Bible up and try this for yourself on another part of God's word?